I was travelling to a literary festival recently when I realised that Julian Barnes and David Mitchell were both on the same flight.
As the plane took off, I started to have my usual thoughts, ie what happens if the engine explodes and we all die in a ball of metal and hellfire, I hope my parents don’t go through my bank statements and realise how much I’ve been spending on pedicures and cocktails, no one at my funeral had dare utter the words “she wouldn’t want us to cry”.
For the record, I want a closed casket, (remember me as I was, or preferably as I was in some heavily filtered Instagram photos) I would like for my bedroom to be kept as an eternal shrine to me (none of this turning it into a home-gym rubbish. THAT’S NOT WHAT I WOULD HAVE WANTED, DAD) and I ask that all mourners leave the humanist ceremony physically dehydrated because they’ve been crying so much.
But on that flight to Italy, I suddenly realised that if this particular plane crashed, there would be op-ed after op-ed about what a loss to the English language it had been, the genius of Mitchell and Barnes wiped out in one second.
What would they find to say about a novice author from west Cork when compared to the long list of literary prizes and Hollywood adaptations the other two have stacked up?
Well. Let’s move on, shall we?
As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I don’t want to have children.
I always feel under pressure to reassure you that despite this, I love children, I believe it’s important that their lives be safe and secure, and that I respect your desire to have them.
In other words, I am not the witch in Hansel and Gretel. (Although sign me up for a house made of sweets
I’ve never had a biological drive to have children of my own or truly understood why people seemed to have an all-encompassing need to procreate.
As I was imagining my imminent death and felt annoyed at the thought of being ignored in favour of better known authors (they say creative types are overly dramatic but I’ve never seen evidence of it in my own life), I did wonder if that was part of the reason why people are so determined to start a family.
Do human beings simply have an instinctive need to leave their mark upon this earth?
Do we just want someone to remember us after we die?
Does the desire to have children come from the same urge to create
, whether that is a piece of art or a book or a house or a political party or a lobby group or a school?
Does it all stem from an urge to create a legacy that will somehow define us?
I was obsessed with this idea as a child and well into my teens.
I read countless biographies about old Hollywood glamour, wondering why names like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland and Elvis Presley and Cary Grant were still familiar, still talked about, still revered, when so many of their contemporaries had been lost to the annals of history.
What was the secret of their longevity? Surely it couldn’t just be their beauty or their talent when both attributes are ubiquitous in the entertainment industry?
Why were they cradled in our collective consciousness decades after their deaths and how could I achieve the same?
I decided that in order to, I would have to become famous.
If I was famous, I would never have to worry about being insignificant again because everyone in the world would know my name.
Everyone would love me.
Everyone would think I was special, important, worthy of attention and affection.
They would think I was good enough and maybe, just maybe, if enough people believed that than I might allow myself to believe it as well.
I no longer want to be famous but I do still think about how I would like to be remembered.
Some of that is to do with my work.
As egotistical as it might sound, of course I would like to think that my novels or my columns might have helped someone through a difficult time or even made someone look at the world a little differently.
I try and use my platform, such as it is, to raise awareness for issues that I think are important and hopefully I can be part of a movement here in Ireland that will enact real change in social policies and larger cultural norms.
More than that though, I’ve started to think about how I affect the people around me.
There are things that I’ve done in my life that I wish I could take back — scathing unkindness to an ex-boyfriend, impatience when my sister needed my support, silence when girls at school spoke cruelly about classmates — but the older I get, the more determined I am to live my life in a way that I can be proud of.
I try to be kind, to have empathy for other people, to know that we’re all fighting our own battles and each of us is doing the best that we possibly can.
Maya Angelou once said that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, and I would love if people felt good in my company, if they felt safe to be their true selves around me.
I hope people know that I’m unlikely to judge them for their foibles and flaws because I’m all too aware of my own.
It doesn’t always work, unfortunately.
I can be irritable and fractious and petulant (my mother will attest to all of the above. Sorry, Mom!) but I keep trying, anyway.
Because I don’t want my legacy to be fame or to be notoriety or public recognition.
I want my legacy to be kindness.
Kindness above all else.